For my friends and me, life was abruptly changed on the after school athletic fields in the spring of our eighth-grade year, when all of our parents signed us up for dancing school.
My friends and I were all told it was a non-negotiable part of our education.
We were divided on the subject, until one of us confessed that in church he had recently prayed to God that he be allowed to live long enough to experience sex.
We found this to be reasonably compelling and it was sufficient to open the door for the rest of us to give in and accept the inevitable.
We had been given no previous training for this.
My preparation for dancing school was to wash my hair and then soap and rinse myself several times until I was squeaky clean, then do pull ups on the shower curtain rail in front of the mirror until I began to perspire and I couldn’t do anymore, in order to improve my physique.
Dancing school started at 4:30 pm. It was held in the middle school cafeteria at our all-boys day school. After lunch, all the tables were moved to one side, the chairs were placed side by side along opposite walls, and a piano was rolled into place.
Our instructors, Mr. and Mrs. Knot, were a husband and wife team who appeared to be in their 30s. The husband played the piano, smoked constantly, and showed no enthusiasm. We all liked him from the start.
His wife however was stern, and dressed in black high heels and a low cut black dress that featured her remarkable figure. From the start we had a problem. We couldn’t look at her, but we couldn’t take our eyes off of her.
Mrs. Knot would single out the tallest boy to dance with her. She would teach him the steps while the rest of us watched. We were then lined up with the girls from tallest to shortest and we could repeat their example.
Mrs. Knot soon showed the boys how they could politely change partners on the dance floor by tapping a boy on the shoulder.
One of the shortest boys in the class, who had big glasses, tapped Mrs. Knot’s dance partner on the shoulder in what appeared to be a shameless attempt to gain favor with his teacher. She appeared to approve, until they began to dance and she realized that her high heels and his height had placed his nose in her cleavage and his glasses were focused squarely on her breasts.
The girls were at least a head taller than most of the boys and, after a week or two, Mrs Knot announced a “ladies’ choice.”
The ladies’ choice turned out to be an extremely athletic event. The girls were choosing boyfriends but we didn’t know that.
They would slowly stand and walk toward their target, but if there was competition, they would pick up the pace and start running. There were times when two competitors, in an effort to get their boy and also to stop, would pile up and slide under the chairs where we were sitting.
The situation grew more mature. Later that spring, I had a girlfriend for almost a month, but I didn’t know that until she dumped me.
This was not unusual. Attachments were formed and broken in many cases before a boy even knew he had been going steady.
I was in my second relationship and didn’t know it until I was informed that it was over. I was told by a girl who I didn’t know that I had just broken up with a girl and that I was now available.
As the classes drifted into spring, the more adventurous girls would talk their parents into parties in the basement of their home.
They were all pretty much the same. They featured a record player and rotating chaperones to make sure nobody danced close during “Moon River.” The rule was stiff-arm dancing with visible open space between the dancers.
As the spring finished up, the chaperones and other parents migrated upstairs and gathered in the living room for cocktails. Occasionally, they would do sneak attacks or peek down into the basement to make sure the lights had not been dimmed or turned off and people were not dancing close to “Moon River.” They always claimed they were just making sure “the snacks had not run out.”
By summer, we had made friends with girls and even fallen in love and knew it.
Something beautiful had happened that spring. Nobody really knew what it was other than a transition, but it was beautifully woven together as a right of passage for everyone, including the parents.
The following spring, as upper-school ninth-graders, we would spill out of school at 4:30 pm and look in the windows of the cafeteria as Mrs. Knott waltzed her way through another dumbfounded eighth-grade class.
We had friends that were girls now, and we even knew enough to know we had girlfriends. I had even learned to do pull ups before the shower.